How Testifying Again Felt: Frustration, Grief, Helplessness and Determination

As I posted last week, I testified last Tuesday in Governor Eric Greitens' $20k/a day special session to restrict reproductive rights. Testifying for the second time in Jefferson City was more anxiety-inducing, and also more familiar and thus, calming in that way. That's a cold comfort though: that I have had to go twice in 2 months to fight for my and Grace Pearl's rights as well as and those of the other 1.5 million women of reproductive age in Missouri is discouraging and upsetting. And there is no end in sight. But this is something that is within my realm to do and I'll do it as much as I can/it makes sense to do to raise awareness, secure options for other women that might find themselves in our situation, and honor Grace.

As I mentioned in my last post, I testified in opposition of two bills, and I put my testimonials up on that post. But I didn't go into how it felt, which I think is just as important and honestly even more interesting than what I said. 

The first bill I testified on was SB-6, which would remove St. Louis's ruling that organizations and companies cannot discriminate women for things like using contraception, being pregnant or getting an abortion based on moral or religious beliefs, which was sponsored by Springfield, MO State senator Bob Dixon. I think this is a sticky one, to be honest. I do respect that there are religions that do not believe in abortion, but I also believe that being pro-life means being far more than anti-abortion. This bill, in my opinion, exposes some of these holes in the argument:

 Jim and me on the day of our egg retrieval as part of IVF. Should we discriminated against for doing this when there is no other way for us to have a biological child?

Jim and me on the day of our egg retrieval as part of IVF. Should we discriminated against for doing this when there is no other way for us to have a biological child?

  • While I respect that some people don't believe in some things due to religion, sometimes it brings a lot of harm to others, and I find that, personally, to be fairly contradictory to the messages that religion often proposes. I think it's an area that begs for further discussion, compassion towards both sides, and a compromise. This bill doesn't suggest that and instead feels hasty and I don't think passing a bill that allows for such broad discrimination is the right approach. 
  • If a woman can be discriminated against for using contraception, being pregnant, using assisted reproductive technologies (like IVF) and having an abortion, what state of existence CAN she occupy and be free from discrimination? Abstinence? Outside of child-bearing age? It's far too restrictive. It makes me feel helpless and furious. 
  • Where are the men in this? Pregnancy, the need for birth control, procedures like IVF and abortions are all created by two people, but these laws are aimed at women. 
  • One of our biggest supporters has been a nun of 50+ years. Catholicism is one of the religions that strongly condemns abortion and is spurring this bill, but between this nun and some of both of our friends and families who have shown us immense compassion and support despite being uncomfortable with abortion in general (and who am I to judge? To be raised in a faith since you were born that feels abortion is always wrong is not something to be brushed aside, in my opinion), it shows that there isn't even a unified approach towards abortion from people that practice the religions that are supporting this bill. Yet how some feel should be codified into law? Instead of removing St. Louis's exception from these laws, the laws should be corrected.

I think there are far smarter ways to show respect for religious opposition to abortion. More on that in a future post, but I want to make it very clear that I do not think think that those that oppose abortion for religious reasons are to be condemned, judged or dismissed. Respect has to go both ways.

 Senator Robert Onder

Senator Robert Onder

Then there was SB-1, which tries to circumvent Judge Howard Sachs' injunction based on on the Whole Women's Health v Hellerstedt ruling in the Supreme Court, noting that based on that ruling, Missouri's one abortion facility in the entire state constituted an unconstitutional burden on women seeking this reproductive health treatment, in addition to overly lofty requirements for abortion-providing facilities. This one was harder for me. I felt anxious going into it because it is sponsored by Robert Onder, who coincidentally used to be my allergist. I can't believe some of the audacious things he's done as a senator though, and this is coming from someone who had a perfectly pleasant opinion of him before he started doing these things. Proposing that we rename the St. Louis Zoo the "Midwest Abortion Sanctuary City Zoological Park"? Pushing this special session at the expense of $20,000 a day when it's not an emergency? And worst of all, proposing legislation that is medically inaccurate using his medical degree as validity to do so (the bill asserts a fetus feels pain at 22 weeks, when all of my specialists noted it was 24-28)? I find Onder's doing so to be so insincere, so overtly political over sensible, and so dangerous that it makes me furious, nervous and highly uncomfortable. This is not someone I would ever trust to be my doctor again, and I can't imagine anyone I know who would want their doctor to use personal beliefs to dictate their care over medical and science-based facts. Yet he's proposing laws that will effect far more than his allergy patients. It's truly scary.

Specific to the bill itself, I explained that while Jim and I were lucky to be in St. Louis and close to excellent medical care and the sole abortion provider in the state at the time (Planned Parenthood), what if we happened to live in Joplin and had prior children we needed to find childcare for, and/of travel hundreds of miles for our care. As I explained how our immense privilege and how it helped us I grew more frustrated. While the senators were kindly looking at me, I knew it wouldn't change their votes. And that was the worst part of all. 

I am driving 2.5 hours each way, taking the day off work, paying for my own gas and meals and writing testimonials late into the night to share Grace's story. I think it's important, and one of the things I have heard while telling it over the past 7 months is that a lot of people had never considered this side of abortion - that people sometimes do it because it's the most loving, humane thing we can do while we suffer immense heartbreak at learning our wanted pregnancies won't turn into happy, healthy babies. But these elected officials are so tied up in politics, so tied up in Right For Life and other anti-abortion donors... they don't care enough to vote for my family and others like mine. They might feel badly for me, but not enough to acknowledge that this will happen to families again, and to demand smarter, more balanced, inclusive, compromising bills. Having that hit me again (this certainly wasn't the first time) combined with reliving Grace's story and how sad I am to not have her now made me start to cry. 

I live in the state with the third most restrictive reproductive rights, and they are still pushing forward these bills. They want MORE restrictions. Abortion is protected by Roe v Wade and 7 out of 10 people believe it should be legal. Yet I have to testify to keep these rights, and it's still not enough - sometimes these bills advance and become law. It's easy to see why people call this a war on women - when is it enough? When abortion is illegal and women die in back alleys and babies like Grace suffer needlessly? Is that truly what people want?

It's not that I'm absolute - I believe in moderate restrictions around abortion that takes all parties into consideration and has appropriate exceptions, support for those that need it should they choose not to end a pregnancy, and compromises between the two sides. Surely I'm not the only one. But even my desires for compromise feel helpless in the face of Missouri's Conservative politicians, especially as they are spurred on by Governor Greitens. When will we get politicians that care more about their constituents, including more than the unborn (and including them too, in the case of Grace who would suffer under these laws) more than playing politics? 

It's my very sincere hope that this changes some day. We ALL deserve better, no matter where you stand on this issue, and if you believe you still are 100% against abortion after hearing my story, I hope you remember your daughter, niece, cousin, daughter in law, wife, etc. could have this happen to her at any time. Men, this could happen to any woman in your life that is of reproductive age. Don't you want laws to include them? I wonder how Dr. Onder would feel if something like this happened to one of his 6 children when they get older. Simply wishing for nothing to go wrong and avoiding thinking about the reality Jim and I experienced isn't enough. 

 With others that testified against the Senate Bills that would restrict reproductive rights in Jefferson City, June 13, 2017, including my amazing friend Dana (far right). 

With others that testified against the Senate Bills that would restrict reproductive rights in Jefferson City, June 13, 2017, including my amazing friend Dana (far right).